It started in the Government Center with volunteers helping fathers obtain legal rights to their children.
Now, the Legitimation Station has a full-time administrator and a new location.
Edward Berry, a local attorney who volunteered with the program for several years, is now running the station.
In addition to helping fathers with legitimation, Berry is also administrator for judges in the Chattahoochee Judicial Circuit, which covers six counties, said Chief Superior Court Judge Gil McBride. He also oversees mediation for domestic relations cases throughout the circuit.
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Berry replaces Larry Love, who served as judicial circuit administrator for many years, said McBride. The Legitimation Station was added to the job as part of an effort to enhance the program.
McBride said Berry’s position is being funded by a $10,000 grant the program recently received from the city’s Crime Prevention Office, and another $10,000 from the city. It’s also funded by court filing fees, which make up between 80 to 90 percent of Berry’s salary.
Berry works out of the Office of Dispute Resolution located at 308 10th Street, where the Legitimation Station is now open 9 a.m. to noon on the first, second and third Fridays of the month.
“The law in Georgia is that if a child is born out of wedlock — in other words, the parents are not married — then that child is deemed an illegitimate child,” said Berry, who has practiced domestic law in Georgia and Alabama for 30 years. “And in order for the father to have any legal rights to the child, even any visitation to the child, there needs to be a legitimation.
“We have volunteers that come in. We have computers. We have forms. We have printers,” he said. “And when they leave here, after they’ve been here for an hour or so, they will leave here with a complete packet in an envelope that they can file in order to start the legal process for their children to become legitimated.”
The Legitimation Station was launched in 2009 by McBride and Lauren Mescon, an attorney and former family judge. It started as a once-a-month program located at the Law Library in the Government Center, and recently moved to the new location.
Here are a few more details Berry wants people to know about the Legitimation Station:
▪ The Legitimation Station doesn’t represent fathers in court: Berry said fathers who participate in the program are actually filing a lawsuit against the mother of their biological child. Volunteer paralegals and attorneys help the fathers prepare the necessary documents, which include a petition, a child support worksheet, a parenting plan and other the ancillary documents. But it’s the father’s responsibility to file the documents with the court in the county where the mother lives and to serve as his own attorney.
▪ Doors close an hour early. Though the Legitimation Station is open from 9 a.m. to noon on the Fridays that it’s available, the program stops taking clients at 11 a.m. because it takes about an hour to prepare the paperwork, Berry said. So fathers must be there on time.
▪ It’s a need-based program. The services are only available to fathers who can’t afford to hire an attorney to help them prepare the paperwork, and they must prove financial need in order to qualify.
For more information, call 706-653-4190.